The financial world was holding its breath Wednesday as the Federal Reserve was set to hand down a decision on interest rates. Amid weakening economic growth, it's expected the Fed will delay a rate hike until at least December, but a surprise is not out of the question.
In a recent high-profile speech in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Fed Chair Janet Yellen indicated a rate hike was being considered. "Indeed, in light of the continued solid performance of the labor market and our outlook for economic activity and inflation, I believe the case for an increase in the federal funds rate has strengthened in recent months," Yellen said during the Fed's August conference.
The U.S. central bank previously raised the interest rate in December, the first hike in nearly a decade. But economists expect the Fed to hold off on making another change Wednesday after a month of disappointing economic data, including slow retail sales, jobs growth slowed and industrial output. The federal funds rate — the interest rate banks charge each other — is now 0.5 percent.
"Fed watchers assigned a 54 percent probability to a rate increase in December, and just a 15 percent chance of a hike when officials meet Sept. 20-21," wrote Bloomberg News of the announcement expected to come Wednesday at the conclusion of the Fed’s two-day policy meeting. "When asked if the Fed will communicate a stronger intent to raise rates in the near future, 65 percent of economists in the survey said yes."
The decision Wednesday is loaded with both economic and political implications. Yellen is a Democrat, and if rates stay put, some Republicans may accuse her of propping up the economy ahead of November's election. Democrat Hillary Clinton is seen as the heir to the policies of President Barack Obama, while the GOP's Donald Trump has been critical of Yellen.
Trump said on CNBC last week the Yellen should be "ashamed of herself” for keeping the rate close to zero. "It’s staying at zero because she’s obviously political and doing what Obama wants her to do," Trump told CNBC.
The Fed's rate decision is expected to come at 2 p.m. EDT. Yellen will hold a press conference afterword. For a live stream of Yellen's remarks, you can check in at the Fed's U Stream channel here and its YouTube channel here. You can also follow along with Bloomberg TV live here or Reuters live TV here.
A rate hike from the Fed can affect the interest rates for everyday Americans on everything from credits cards, to investing in a 401(k), to purchasing a car or home. A hike could also inject some unpredictability into the stock market and increase the value of the dollar against global currencies.